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Early release for 200 inmates as part of emergency measures

The country’s most overcrowded prisons have seen a dramatic turnaround in capacity after 200 inmates were released early as part of emergency measures to ease overcrowding and prevent a Covid-19 outbreak.

Two weeks ago, five prisons — Limerick male and female prisons, Cork, Mountjoy female (Dóchas), and Midlands — were all at or above official capacity.

But following Irish Prison Service (IPS) proposals authorised by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, capacity in all of them, bar Limerick male, are now down to below official capacity.

Mr Flanagan said last week that prisons were “high risk” and that the releases were essential to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 and if there are any cases to ensure there is “space for isolation”.

It comes as the IPS took moves yesterday to further restrict visits to prisoners — from a maximum of a two-person visit once a week to a one-person visit per week of 15 minutes, No children are permitted to visit.

IPS figures on the daily prison population show the total number in custody has fallen from 4,195 on March 9 to 3,947 on March 23.

The number of people on temporary release has risen from 349 to 552, a jump of 58%.

Authorities have stressed not all people on temporary release were freed under Covid-19 measures.

The total prison system is now at 91% capacity, compared to 98% two weeks ago. A breakdown over the two weeks shows the biggest reductions have been in the most overcrowded prisons. These include:

  • Limerick female, where the number of prisoners in custody is down from 37 to 26, with 28 people now on temporary release, compared to 20 (up 40%). This means its capacity is now at 93%, compared to 132%;
  • Limerick male, where custody numbers have been cut from 231 to 216, with 52 people on temporary release, compared to 31 (up 61%). Its capacity is now at 103%, compared to 110%;
  • Cork Prison, where custody numbers are down from 313 to 278, with 100 people on temporary release, compared to 74 (up 35%). Its capacity is now at 94%, compared to 106%;
  • Dóchas, where custody numbers have dropped from 149 to 125, with 83 people now on temporary release, compared to 58 (up 43%). Its capacity is now at 86%, compared to 102%;
  • Midlands Prison, where custody numbers have been cut from 879 to 857, with temporary release numbers up from 29 to 51, up 76%.

Prison numbers have also been cut significantly at Wheatfield, from 544 to 498 (capacity 89% to 82%) and Castlerea, from 331 to 302 (capacity 98% to 89%).